Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The Athletic Director

The deed is done.  Effective September 15, 2015, Steve Patterson is no longer the Men’s athletic director at The University of Texas.  And it only took one flyover banner.  I wouldn’t be surprised if former Offensive Coordinator Greg Davis thought he got off easy.
In an email to Texas faculty, students and staff, Greg Fenves, President of the University of Texas noted:
"Steve brought important ideas and changes to our athletics program, and I appreciate the good things he accomplished in his time at UT. I wish him the best in his future endeavors.”
Patterson was on the job just 22 months, and by the end, it seems his social shortcomings far outweighed any positive impacts he made during his stay. 

When Steve Patterson replaced DeLoss Dodds after a 22 year tenure, it was time for some new blood. Fans were clamoring for coaching changes as both the football and basketball programs were in a bit of a slump.  Patterson, hired out of Arizona State and of corporate sports marketing fame, was somewhat of an unlikely choice to fans, who considered Texas alumnus Oliver Luck of West Virginia the more attractive choice.  Still, Patterson, a UT undergrad and law school graduate pledged to do right by the University, and the journey began.
One of the ways he was going to do right by the university?  Revamp the coaching staff for the football, and basketball programs.  Patterson executed this plan by replacing football coach Mack Brown with Charlie Strong and basketball coach Rick Barnes with Shaka Smart.  While the removal of both of these coaches was well in progress by the time Patterson took the job in November of 2013, it doesn’t take away from what I believe to be great hires for the University.  Good, solid moves.

Unfortunately, the execution of these decisions shines as an example of one of Patterson’s major flaws:  his own personal branding.  Those close to Patterson and the program admit that Patterson struggles to stay ahead of his messaging by communicating honestly and openly, often trying to duck accountability and choosing not to foster relationships with high profile donors.
One of the main complaints against Patterson was that he appeared arrogant.  Which is so ironic, because if you can show me a Texas fan who hasn’t been accused of being arrogant, then I’ll show you some oceanfront property in Arizona I’m looking to sell. To the point, DeLoss Dodds was often arrogant, having most famously responded to the question of “are you trying to keep up with the Joneses?” in respect to collegiate athletics with the response “No.  We are the Joneses.”   But Dodds was sitting atop an empire of dominance in revenue, facilities and athletic competition.  And Dodds’ arrogance, for the most part, wasn’t directed at donors, faculty and students, and the fans in the way Steve Patterson’s appeared to be.  There’s a difference between being the proud, confident face of Longhorn Athletics and being inaccessible and defensive

The absolute bumbling and amateur theatrics surrounding the Rick Barnes “resignation” was embarrassing for everyone involved and highlighted Patterson’s inability to manage people or his messaging.  Prior to his 18th season as basketball head coach, Barnes chose not to bend to Patterson, who had laid down an ultimatum for the coach to either make sweeping changes across his coaching staff or clean out his locker.  Barnes chose the latter.  Then, according to reports, Patterson leaked to the media in Austin that Barnes was out.  Many speculated that Patterson wanted to embarrass Barnes, who had voiced opposition to Patterson’s “globalization initiative” program, which as it stood would have his student athletes away from campus for a multiple week stretch just before finals.
In fact, Patterson’s obsession with going global seemed to be a major point of contention during his term.  According to The Sporting News, when members of the Basketball staff expressed concern over the stress that opening the 2015-16 season in China would cause for the program, Patterson put those oft spoken of people skills to good use by replying with two words “We’re going.”   Patterson’s motives for this obsession are not clearly known.  While the claim is that the University can gain exposure to future students (currently about 12% of Texas undergrads are from foreign countries), I don’t buy it. 

Patterson, for some reason, has never tried to hide his fan-boy feelings for Pac 12 commissioner Larry Scott, and the move for the China season opener against the University of Washington almost comes off as a strange ploy to win the approval Scott, who launched the Pac 12 Globalization Initiative in 2011.   I don’t know what to make of the relationship, but it’s slightly embarrassing when your Athletic Director seems to be following around the Commissioner of another conference like a puppy. 
“Larry Scott wants to play a basketball game in China….I will make sure it is my team.”

“Larry Scott wants to play a football game in Mexico.  I want to do that too.”
Then there’s Dubai.  I won’t lay Patterson’s infatuation with Dubai on Larry Scott…instead I think it is fueled by Patterson’s other loves: Money, power and ping pong.  Wait, what?

Patterson recently sent a full-on entourage to Dubai to check things out.  The crew, consisting of Mack & Sally Brown, David Thomas, Ricky Brown and Mrs. Steve Patterson (aka Yasmin) went on a “football-related trip meant to explore future possibilities for Texas athletics” in April of this year, according to the Austin American Statesman.  Why?  Who knows.  Not Steve Patterson, who in the span of one press conference made several unrelated and strange statements regarding his globalization goals:
“It's [Dubai] also the country that paid Tiger Woods $2 million and skip the Phoenix Open each year,” Patterson said. “What does that mean with what we might do with a golf team?” (Money)
““Was anybody buying a Kobe Bryant T-shirt in China 40 years ago? No. Was anybody watching the NFL all over the planet 40 years ago? No. That's not about dollars and sense; it's the projection of our culture.”  (Brand Recognition)
“Forty-five years ago, China and the US were at war. What opened the door? Ping pong? The same people that are going what the heck are you doing in Dubai were the same people who said why are you playing ping pong in China?” (Ping Pong)
“If the entry path happens to be sports, great,” he said. “It's a de-politicized path that people can rally around similar to music, entertainment. When the Berlin Wall fell, half the reason was people wanted to buy jeans and Michael Jackson records.” (World Peace)
These ramblings represent a big part of the problem with Steve Patterson: how he manages his personal brand.   The fact that he’s never out ahead of his messaging painted him green – and people began to perceive that he cares about one thing and one thing only:  Money.

And it’s not just when he’s talking about Texas athletics on a global scale that Patterson’s message falls apart.  While the resignation of Rick Barnes makes it clear that there appears to be a disconnect between the coaches and Patterson, at least in that instance we can kind of overlook it - Barnes was perceived as already on the way out prior to Patterson’s arrival. 
On the football side, we can see an example of Patterson’s strange aloofness from his coaches by his refusal to settle or help settle the contract buyout lawsuit against Joe Wickline.   His refusal to drop $593,000 to square the suit away has been embarrassing for the university and the Big XII.  Because the University of Texas wasn’t specifically named in the suit, Patterson feels it isn’t their problem.  A shining example of how NOT to handle your relationships with coaches.  In a season where our football team and coaches certainly don’t need any distractions, this lawsuit dragging out is not helping.

An even more disturbing example of this disconnect was the complete meltdown that occurred between the AD and the tennis program – a situation where money, miscommunication and mistrust all collided. The Texas tennis facility, The Penick-Allison Complex, was demolished last June at the discretion of the University, not the athletic department.  To compensate, Former President Powers pledged $15 million of University (not athletic department) funding to build a new facility – a promise that current President Greg Fenves confirmed to still be the case.  Yet Steve Patterson has never given any indication that he understands this money exists, and has been insisting that the athletic department must pay for it themselves, and that funds must be raised to do so.   Why?   Who knows.  But women’s tennis coach Danielle McNamara resigned over it, assistant coach Fendick-McCain turned down a promotion and resigned over it, and several potential replacements also gave Patterson the ol’ Heisman when offered the position.  Amidst this, the women’s Athletic Director, Chris Plonsky, sent an announcement regarding the resignation that included the phrase "we are feverishly fund raising to ensure that our men's and women's teams benefit from this new facility within the time frame of construction plans (which are in the early stages)."  This caused Fenves to have to declare (again), that the facility had been funded prior to his time and remained funded. 
You may be asking yourself: what the hell did I just read?  Honestly, I have no idea.  I’ve read about this situation several times from several different sources and still have no idea what is happening.  The only thing of which I am sure, is that Steve Patterson wasn’t on the level, he completely lacked competent communication and damaged his reputation with several coaches and staff in Texas athletics in this fiasco.  And to what price?

Was Patterson using the tennis facility to exaggerate how much funding he was being required to raise?  I can understand he would need something to justify the huge increase in staff he’s acquired in order to help him raise those funds.   More incredible than the increase of 35+ employees in the department is the fact that several of the PR, sports information and communications staff remains vacant after Patterson fired 23 year veteran Director of Football Media John Bianco – giving him 5 minutes to access his computer and get out of Belmont.  Others staffers quickly followed suit, leaving a gaping hole in an area where Steve Patterson could definitely use more than a little support – Public Relations.
We’ve also heard rumors that Patterson and Coach Strong didn’t always see eye to eye.  Coach Strong notably fought to give his quality control coaches more competitive salaries (and by more completive, we’re talking about University of Texas coaches making 47% less than the next lowest paying Big XII School at that position, Kansas).  Patterson’s inability to bend cost the university 6 of those 8 coaches.

And it’s not just athletic coaches.  Dr. Rob Carnochan, who served as the Texas band director also left the university under Patterson’s watchful eye.   Carnochan felt he couldn’t ensure a great student experience for his band when faced with $250,000 in budget cuts in addition to a ‘membership’ fee being placed on student band members and less travel for the full band, even to in-state games.
So let’s just talk about the money and get it all out there.   We’ve all heard or felt it:  Patterson worships the almighty dollar.  It’s so engrained in us that when the concession stands in the upper deck at the home opener last week ran out of hot dogs before halftime, my immediate response was “Oh man, Steve Patterson is going to be pissed he missed out on all that hot dog money.”

In addition to (maybe, but probably not) having to raise $15 million dollars for the tennis facility, Patterson circulated a memo explaining that the rising costs to cover student athletes food, scholarships and stipends, etc. would total $2.55 million dollars over the previous year’s costs.   Being generous and assuming Patterson just wanted to break even, here’s my suggestion on where the $2.55 million could have come from:

$159,996 – 6 First class round trip tickets to Dubai
$92,970 – Food and hotel for six people for five nights in Dubai
$500,000 – Mack Brown’s 2015 Consultant Salary
$120,000 – One season of Jet-Pack Guy at the stadium
$95,000 – Study to determine that Texas Athletics make up 2.5% of Austin’s Tourist Economy
$899,177 – Unsold 2015 Season Tickets because people think Patterson is a Scrooge
$450,000 – Consultant paid to make games less enjoyable for the fans
$194,000 – Salaries of employees paid to help Patterson raise money
$2,560,963 – I did it!!

Okay, so I had to make up some of those numbers, but you get my point.  There are always ways to find money in a budget, a lesson everyone has learned at some point – usually when deciding if that last $20 should be spent on groceries or beer.
Instead Steve Patterson chose some of the following ways to recoup that money at the expense of the students, athletes, faculty and staff:

* Charging the remaining football season ticket holders a 21% average increase in tickets.
* Charging the season ticket holders for parking
* Charging tailgaters to pay for tailgating in areas that used to be free
* Making the band pay for their own football tickets, uniforms and practice gear
* Threatening to deny future tickets to season ticket holders who resell tickets (because if the athletic department doesn’t get the money, no one should).
* Cutting coaching ticket allotments
* Charging coaches to eat with their players (if they choose to eat with them more than 30 times)
* Charging Alumni and former letter winners to hang out on the field.
* Raising basketball tickets an average of 7%
* Increasing the cost of faculty and staff tickets over 150%
* Reducing budgets for baseball and basketball travel

The items on this list, as compared with other revenue sources are just laughable. The real money is generated by advertising, branding deals and sponsorships, which totaled roughly $35 million in 2014.  And you can bet Steve Patterson had his eye on a Nike deal comparable to the $169 million dollar payday Michigan just saw.  Texas also sees NCAA and Big XII distributions – about $24 million in 2015.

And there are other measures Patterson was willing to take to raise the bottom line.  Against former President Power’s wishes, Patterson took a bullying approach with Austin city officials in an effort to strong arm them into footing the bill for the replacement for the Frank Erwin Center.   There’s also the proceeds from the Longhorn Network that the athletic department splits 50/50 with the university to the tune of $7.5 each annually…for 20 years.  This particularly was a point of contention between Patterson and Powers – Patterson felt that the university didn’t deserve their half of the revenue.
And last of all, in 2015, in addition to $34 million in ticket sales, the athletic department took in around $30 million in “contributions”.   
Everyone, especially the students, faculty and fans of the University of Texas know what a cash cow (pardon the pun, Bevo) the athletic program at UT is.   We’re always at the top of the list for revenue generation.  Always.  For God’s sake, we fractured the Big XII in three simple words: The Longhorn Network. 
This “nickel and diming” of the fans, staff, students and everyday donors isn’t even a drop in the bucket compared to the revenue that’s being raked in annually, and EVERYONE KNOWS IT.   All it’s done is alienate Patterson from the masses, and make him look like a jerk.  I’m sorry, but there’s not a more sophisticated way to say it.
And all this might be okay, if Patterson was just a little better about managing his image.  For example:
* When raising season ticket prices by over a 20% average, don’t do creepy cartoon math to make it sound like it was an average 6% increase.  Everyone knows this is a lie, and it just makes them madder.  Just own it.
* When the Texas Tech tweet machine pops off that you’re charging their band to come play in Austin, get out there and throw the real truth down right away to shut everybody up – especially since this is an instance where you didn’t do anything sketchy
* Be nice to your alumni and letter holders.  When they have a reunion, don’t charge them to go take pictures on the field.  It makes you look like a chump.  Say this recoups $1,200 a weekend.  Are you kidding me?  You could have made that money up by having stocked 300 more hot dogs at the game last week. 
* Suck up to the donors.  I’m not talking donors like me.  I’m talking about donors who have buildings named after them.  Donors who contribute more money than I’ll make in a lifetime on the regular.  Everyone knows you are terrible at this, and it comes off like you think you’re better than everyone else.   If, when asked, if you think you’ve pissed off donors by being inaccessible and your answer is “I don’t know. Perhaps,” that is the wrong answer.  When I’m at work, I don’t want to suck up to my clients, but I do it anyway.   If you want to cut chartered jets for the basketball team budget, you can make it up to them by having three cocktails with a donor willing to loan you his jet to fly people around.  Need $15 million for a tennis facility?  (The answer is no, but let’s pretend you do).  I’ve heard there were a couple donors willing to fund that….but that you couldn’t be bothered to have lunch with them.
Everybody understands that the athletic program is a business.  It’s a revenue machine, it’s a beast.  I don’t know anyone who has a problem with it being run as such.  But the mere pennies being turned up by hassling the fan base is unnecessary, almost as if Patterson was intentionally trying to undo anything good he implemented in his tenure. 

Shaka Smart, Charlie Strong?   Good.  UT regent Tom Hicks, when speaking of the hiring of Coaches Strong and Smart noted “I think we'll get the benefit of that for many years, along with some of these long-term contracts with advertisers and sponsors. I'm just sorry for Steve that he won't be here to enjoy it. It's his own fault.”   Yikes. 

Beer sales at the events? Good (though probably also greedy, but who cares?!)
The donor tier system and the concierge for foundation members – good.  I’m on board.  It’s good for everything to be transparent, and nice to have a representative who knows you and gives you accurate information – that wasn’t always easy in the past. 
No re-entry policy?  Good.  I loved seeing a full stadium (well, as full as it was going to get) in the third quarter of the football game.

Too bad no one cares about any of those things.  All that will be remembered is the punchline that the University will let Patterson pack up his office, but that they’ll charge him per box to do it.

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